REFORMING THE PUBLIC SERVICES A NEW PARADIGM
B P Mathur*
Quality of governance is increasingly being realized as the primary reason behind the most remarkable development success stories of rich countries of the West, as well as the Asian tigers, such as Japan and Singapore. It is widely recognized that India's poor record on economic, social and ethical fronts is largely due to poor governance. Most experts hold the view that the Weberian model of public bureaucracy, which constitutes a career with a system of promotion based on seniority, fixed remuneration for officials with right of pension, and organized as hierarchy, cannot meet the challenges of the current day New Welfare State. The bureaucracies are largely unresponsive to popular demand, embroiled in red tape, power hungry and corrupt. During the last three decades, major reforms in public services have taken place in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and a large number of other countries, bringing about dramatic improvements in the quality of service and invigorating the economy.
on results, service quality and public satisfaction; help managers improve service delivery and improve internal management of federal government. Most of the US States have also adopted the GPRA Act. In order to improve the working of the Government, President Bill Clinton appointed a high level task force headed by Vice President Al Gore. The task force was known as the National Performance Review (1993). NPR's proposals for major reform related to decentralization of personnel policies, streamlining the budget and procurement system and elimination of thousands of regulations which hamstrung the federal employees. The reforms measures initiated during Clinton's presidency have been continued by George Bush. A new initiative known as President Management Agenda has been launched, which has five specific goals. The Office of Budget and Management OMB) assesses the performance of each department/ agency in relation to these goals through a score card/ grading system.
The new philosophy of managing public services, popularly known as New Public Management (NPM) has dramatically transformed the performance of governments in developed countries. The main elements of these changes are: 1) Selection for top posts through competition, contractual appointments, benchmarking and measuring performance. 2) Decentralization of authority within governmental units and devolution of responsibilities to lower levels of government. 3) Re-examination of what government should both pay for and do, what it should pay for but not do, and what it should neither pay for nor do. 4) Consideration of more cost-effective ways of delivering services, such as contracting out, market-type mechanisms and user charges. 5) Downsizing the public services and privatisation and corporatisation of activities. 6) Customer orientation, including explicit quality standards for public services. 7) Reforms designed to simplify regulations and reduce costs.
India Reasons for poor performance
Some of the reasons for poor performance of public services in India are :
High emphasis on job security: In government service, there is no incentive for good work and no disincentive for poor performance. Once appointed, it is almost impossible to remove an employee. The provisions of discipline rules are so cumbersome and tortuous that it becomes very difficult to take action against a delinquent employee for indiscipline and misbehavior. The rules relating to promotion, with excessive reliance on confidential reports, are so framed that everyone gets his promotion when his turn comes. This only encourages mediocrity.
High Degree of Centralization: The functioning of Government of India is highly centralized, with very little delegation to field outfits. The working of the Department of Personnel and the Ministry of Finance, which act as super-ministries, is particularly so. This completely throttles the initiative of other ministries and departments for innovation and change. The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), with the Prime Minister as chairman and the Home Minister and the minister under whose jurisdiction the appointment falls as members, approves all senior appointments of the rank of Joint Secretary and above in the Central Secretariat and Group A Services, besides Board level appointments in the PSUs and autonomous organizations. Such appointments run into hundreds every year. As it is simply not possible for the Prime Minister to apply his mind and judge the merit of each case, the system lends itself to abuse and the Prime Minister's Office emerges as the new center of power.
Lack of professionalism and specialization: The task of policy making in government is complex and needs specialist knowledge of the subject. Under the existing system, most appointments in the Secretariat, both at the Centre and in the States, are held by Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, who are generalists. The Administrative Reforms Commission (1969) had suggested that for higher administration, officers should specialize in specific areas such as economic, financial, rural and social administration, etc.
Outdated Rules and Procedures: One pervasive feature of the Indian bureaucratic machine is the large number of rules relating to service conditions, as well as operational matters, such as Fundamental Rules (FR), General Financial Rules (GFR), Treasury Rules, Conduct Rules, Public Works Account Code. Framed during the British rule, they bear a heavy imprint of the colonial philosophy of check and balance, lack of trust and suspicion. Over the years, numerous clarifications, administrative instructions and guidelines have been issued, making them bulky, confusing and often incomprehensible. These rules stand in the way of introducing modern management practices and speedy decision making.
Politicisation of the services: The civil services have been politicized, particularly in the states. As soon as a new government comes to power after the elections, hundreds of transfers of IAS, IPS and other senior officers are effected with a view to putting the new dispensation's chosen men in key administrative posts. Merit and continuity become the last consideration. This completely demoralizes the civil services and has a telling effect on efficiency.
Reforming the public services
From time to time, the government has been setting up high level committees and commissions to suggest measures for reforming the public administration. These bodies have made laudable recommendations, but these remain largely unimplemented. Why is it so? The basic reason is that the personnel management system, which imposes no accountability on public officials, has not undergone any change over six decades of independence. Stephen Covey, the motivational guru, says that it is the people who produce the strategy, structures, systems and styles of an organization and unless you correct them, the organizations cannot improve. The first step in administrative reform is to correct the personnel management system. The following reforms suggest themselves:
• Make senior appointments contractual and open to competition:
All appointments to the senior posts of the level of Joint secretary and above in the Central Secretariat, as well as in the field, should be made with the approval of the Union Public Service Commission on the basis of merit and suitability of individuals for the post. The field of selection should be thrown open to candidates outside the civil services, to persons in academics, business and industry. The appointment should be contractual for three to five years with a provision for annual review. The proposal will meet several objectives: it will help in getting the best men for each job as recruitment will be job specific, it will introduce the much needed specialization in services and it will take away the power of appointment to top posts from the hands of politicians and depoliticize the services.
• Create Performance Based Organizations ( PBO's):
If you get a competent man at the top, he can deliver results only if has the necessary organizational structure to support him. There is a need to create performance based autonomous organizations with full delegation of powers in administrative, financial and operational matters on the UK pattern. This includes greater autonomy to managers at each level, general delegation of authority to cost and profit centers, with flexibility to achieve agreed goals within a framework of accountability. PBO provides an organizational structure to a government agency to be entrepreneurial and innovative.
• Downsize the bureaucracy:
We have a vast, sprawling bureaucracy in India. PBOs help in cutting the size of the bureaucracy. In the UK, the civil service workforce fell from 732,000 in 1979 to fewer than 480,000 by 1998. The organized sector employment in India is of the order of 275 lakh, out of which 210 lakh employees are paid wages out of government coffers, if we take into account employment in the Central and State governments, and institutions funded or controlled by them, such as municipal corporations, autonomous bodies and schools, etc. The salary and pension payments to these employees account for 12 percent of India's GDP. This is a staggering sum, if we consider that the entire tax collection of Central government in a year is of the order of 10 to 11 percent of the GDP. In several States, the wages and pensions bill of the employees is more than their revenue, if we exclude their share in Central taxes. Cutting the size of bureaucracy will not only reduce the expenditure but also bring greater efficiency in the working of the government.
• Bring discipline in government service:
The provisions of the Civil Services Conduct and Discipline Rules are so complicated and tortuous that it becomes very difficult to take any action against an employee for indiscipline and misbehaviour. The Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by Justice Venkatachaliha has pointed out that constitutional safeguards under Article 311, have in practice acted to shield the guilty against punishment for abuse of public office for private gain and has suggested their review with a view to rationalizing and simplifying the procedure of administrative and legal action so that the dishonest are not allowed to prosper in office. There is an urgent need to frame a new Civil Service Code, so that honest and efficient officers are given protection and the dishonest are given quick and summary punishment.
• Improve productivity:
The Fifth Central Pay Commission (1997) and the Expenditure Reforms Committee (2001) headed by K P Geethakrishnan came out with wide arrays of proposals for improving the efficiency of public services. These proposals need to be implemented.in right earnest. Some of the important recommendations are: (a) Government offices have hierarchical structure due to which decisions get delayed, causing harassment to the public. There is a need to introduce an officer oriented system with level jumping to speed up decision making. (b) The existing nine levels in which government hierarchies are organized should be reduced to six: Top Executive, Senior Executive, Executive, Supervisory Staff, Supporting Staff and Auxiliary Staff. The ministerial staff divided in numerous categories should be abolished and replaced by a multi-skilled position called Executive Assistant, who should be computer savvy. (c) Government offices should be modernized and provided with computers and other office equipments so as to create an enabling work environment.
Reform or perish
The experiences of Britain and France offer valuable lessons for us in today's globalized world, where the competitiveness of nations has become the key parameter of success. Britain, which was regarded as the sick child of Europe only three decades ago, has today emerged as one of the most successful economies, thanks to its public service reforms. The Anglo-Saxon model is cited as worthy of emulation by other countries. Britain today has strong growth, low inflation and an unemployment rate of only 4 percent. On the other hand, France which was one of the most prosperous countries in Europe till the 1970s, is suffering from sickness due to its dirigiste model and a heavy and inert state machinery. French public spending accounts for 54 per cent of the GDP, compared with the OECD average of 41 %. Its public debt amounts to 66 % of the GDP, compared to 42 % of Britain's, and has one in four workers employed by the public sector, with the lowest working hours of 35 in a week. Reforming the public sector is the biggest challenge facing the new Sarkozy government. If India is to achieve rapid economic growth, banish poverty and illiteracy and become a middle income developed country in the foreseeable future, it needs to take radical decisions to revamp the public services and the State. Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish Nobel prize winner, had described India as a `soft State'. The choice before the policy makers is to break the hold of vested interesst and take hard, politically uncomfortable decisions and reform the public services so that we become a prosperous and developed country or be content with the status quo,
*Dr. B P Mathur has held the positions of Deputy Comptroller & Auditor General and Director, National Institute of Financial Management. He is the author of "Governance Reform for Vision India" ( Macmillans, New Delhi, 2005)